Following a bounce-back week in which they won three games in a row — two against divisional rivals — the Toronto Maple Leafs look to strengthen their grip on a playoff spot on their annual road trip through California starting tonight in San Jose (10:30 p.m. ET, SNO).
With the Sharks’ tradition of regular-season success, this year has been an ordeal for the San Jose faithful. They currently sit next to their two fellow Californian rivals in the basement of the Pacific Division, holding a 28-33-4 record as they play out their last 20 games. Excluding the 2013-14 lockout-shortened season, this will likely be the first year the Sharks finish with fewer than 40 wins since 2002-03.
Despite the overall disappointment, the Sharks have managed to improve their shot and chance share as the season has progressed. That trend hasn’t consistently translated into results in the win column — they just came off a five-game losing streak before winning their last two — but it is a positive sign for an organization that will need to turn their attention more towards developing young players and rebuilding in years to come. Here’s the Sharks five-game rolling xGF trend for this season:
A big reason why their results haven’t caught up to that xGF trend is, unsurprisingly, goaltending. Their 5-on-5 Sv% this year is last in the NHL, although that has also trended upward as of late. The goalie duo of Martin Jones and Aaron Dell have essentially split the starts, Jones with 36 starts and Dell with 28. Jones will be the starter tonight and continues to start the most important games, despite Dell arguably putting together the more successful season. Comparing their results relative to the team’s defensive performances, Dell has saved 2.4 more goals than expected this year, while Jones is nearing seven fewer than expected.
In the Leafs‘ crease, Jack Campbell starts for the first time since winning 3-of-4 in his first stretch as a Leaf. Getting Campbell back in net now, rather than later this week in a back-to-back situation, is probably a good call by the coaching staff when you consider Campbell hasn’t played since February 15th. It would be a tough situation if he was put in for Friday’s game as his first start in three weeks.
It appears, based on the practice lines yesterday, that the forward combinations will stay the same as the last game. That means Alex Kerfoot remains with the Tavares/Nylander duo, something Sheldon Keefe was keen on going back to after a couple of off-nights for that line with Denis Malgin in that spot.
The new line of Frederik Gauthier centering two very capable wingers in Magin and Pierre Engvall — which looks like it will stay intact tonight — had some success against the Canucks. Even despite the heavy minutes apportioned to their stars, the Leafs have plenty of potential here to outperform other team’s depth lines, particularly once Kerfoot is bumped down once Ilya Mikheyev returns later in the season.
Additionally, Rasmus Sandin will be a healthy scratch while Timothy Liljegren returns to the lineup. As Sheldon Keefe mentioned, fatigue could be a real factor for the 19-year-old rookie down the stretch — he just played five games in nine days — and keeping Liljegren engaged and in the mix makes a lot of sense as well if he’s going to hang around with the big club for the time being.
Game Day Quotes
Jack Campbell on how the team has handled major injuries on defence:
I just think from top to bottom, whether you’re a younger guy or a veteran, the D have stepped up. We needed them to and we’re going to continue to need them to do that, so it’s a great opportunity for everybody, really.
Zach Hyman on the PK:
I think we’ve been very competitive on the PK. Before that, we weren’t happy with the results we were getting so we just got back to it, reviewed some tape, and we’re building in the right direction on that. The PK is a really important part of our game, so we need to have success with it.
Sheldon Keefe on the team’s goaltending situation:
The fact that we’re in a battle for the playoffs here is one thing, so of course it’s a major focus for us. The other part of it is that all season there’s been a focus for us in terms of our need to manage Fred’s workload. We don’t want to just make the playoffs. We want to be in a position to thrive in the playoffs as well. We’ve got to manage both of those things. We’re making sure that we’re able to press on here, but not completely empty the tank and have nothing left when the playoffs start. We’ve got to be able to manage that and we’ve been very fortunate to have acquired Jack Campbell. We have trust and belief in him — he’s earned that through the time he’s played with us.
Keefe on Rasmus Sandin sitting out as a healthy scratch:
Rasmus is a guy that has played well for us since he’s come here and circumstances have demanded us to require more of him than probably we would like at this stage of his development. We want to make sure we keep all of that in perspective. It’s worked out in our favour that we were able to aquire Rosen as additional depth ther. The busy schedule being what it is in the NHL, sometimes taking a step back can help the guys for multiple reasons — rest, recovery, a chance to watch the game from a different perspective, a chance to spend for time with the strength coaches. He’ll get back in here soon.
Toronto Maple Leafs Projected Lines
#11 Zach Hyman – #34 Auston Matthews – #16 Mitch Marner
#88 William Nylander – #91 John Tavares – #15 Alex Kerfoot
#73 Kyle Clifford – #19 Jason Spezza – #24 Kasperi Kapanen
#47 Pierre Engvall – #33 Frederik Gauthier – #62 Denis Malgin
#23 Travis Dermott – #3 Justin Holl
#52 Martin Marincin – #94 Tyson Barrie
#48 Calle Rosen – #37 Timothy Liljegren
#36 Jack Campbell (starter)
#31 Frederik Andersen
Scratched: Rasmus Sandin
Injured: Ilya Mikheyev, Morgan Rielly, Cody Ceci, Andreas Johnsson, Jake Muzzin
San Jose Sharks Projected Lines
#9 Evander Kane – #39 Logan Couture – #73 Noah Gregor
#28 Timo Meier – #19 Joe Thornton – #62 Kevin Lebanc
#20 Marcus Sorensen – #46 Joe Kellman – #7 Dylan Gambrell
#45 Lean Bergmann – #40 Antti Suomela – #11 Stefan Noesen
#51 Radim Simek – #88 Brent Burns
#44 Marc-Edouard Vlasic – #38 Mario Ferraro
#67 Jacob Middleton – #72 Tim Heed
#31 Martin Jones (starter)
#30 Aaron Dell
Injured: Erik Karlsson, Melker Karlsson, Dalton Prout, Tomas Hertl